The composition of intern work while on call

J Gen Intern Med. 2012 Nov;27(11):1432-7. doi: 10.1007/s11606-012-2120-7. Epub 2012 Jun 27.


Background: The work of house staff is being increasingly scrutinized as duty hours continue to be restricted.

Objective: To describe the distribution of work performed by internal medicine interns while on call.

Design: Prospective time motion study on general internal medicine wards at a VA hospital affiliated with a tertiary care medical center and internal medicine residency program.

Participants: Internal medicine interns.

Main measures: Trained observers followed interns during a "call" day. The observers continuously recorded the tasks performed by interns, using customized task analysis software. We measured the amount of time spent on each task. We calculated means and standard deviations for the amount of time spent on six categories of tasks: clinical computer work (e.g., writing orders and notes), non-patient communication, direct patient care (work done at the bedside), downtime, transit and teaching/learning. We also calculated means and standard deviations for time spent on specific tasks within each category. We compared the amount of time spent on the top three categories using analysis of variance.

Key results: The largest proportion of intern time was spent in clinical computer work (40 %). Thirty percent of time was spent on non-patient communication. Only 12 % of intern time was spent at the bedside. Downtime activities, transit and teaching/learning accounted for 11 %, 5 % and 2 % of intern time, respectively.

Conclusion: Our results suggest that during on call periods, relatively small amounts of time are spent on direct patient care and teaching/learning activities. As intern duty hours continue to decrease, attention should be directed towards preserving time with patients and increasing time in education.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine / organization & administration*
  • Internship and Residency / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Time and Motion Studies*
  • Workload / statistics & numerical data*